ACADEMIA

Reviews on Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies

Domina. POETS AND THE PSALMS (2008)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Aug• 11•08

Domina, Lynn (Editor). Poets on the Psalms (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 2008), pages: 304 ISBN: 1595340483.

This collection of essays by a number of contemporary English poets (mostly American) on the Book of Psalms is fascinating. For the trained theologian and church-persons this is an offer of fresh air. The Book of Psalms has been read, chanted, sung, interpreted and preached from within the four walls of the churches for two thousand years. The Jews also had considered it sacred and had their life around it for still more years. The book of Psalms which has been the monopoly of the synagogue and the Church is approached by poets who are mostly from outside the walls of the Church and the Synagogue.
In this book, poets with a wide variety of religious experience and some having no serious religious experience have brought together their understanding of the psalms. For example, Carl Philips one of the authors claims to be biracial and gay. Having no religious upbringing the author started reading the Bible as an adult. On the other end of the spectrum is Pattiann Rogers who grew up with the KJV of the bible and even learnt memory verses. The KJV had a lasting impact on her poems. In between comes poets who were Jews but lived among non-Jews, practicing Christians and so on.
The wide variety of authorship means a wide range of freshness of the views in these essays. For example, violence in the Bible, particularly in the Psalms in the form of imprecatory Psalms and a God who advocate violence has been subjects of theological discussion for so many years. However, Alicia Ostricker has a new perspective on this, which is rather non-theological. Unlike Christian theologians she don’t want to reconcile God’s cruel nature. She rather would like to be a like “the abused woman who keeps forgiving her abuser.” She has a power conclusion to her essay which sums up her views on divine violence. Reflecting on her own poems she writes, “Like the Biblical Psalms, mine seem to be love poems of God. But I cannot justify my love.” In the midst of these rather non-academic essays we find Enid Dame, “Psalm 22 and the Gospels. A Midrashic Moment and a Hope for Connection” which has more of an academic tone. The author who is from a working class Jewish background and had to share space with Christians in schools and neighbourhoods explores how a Jew finds the reading of Psalm 22 by Christians. For the Jew Psalm 22 is metaphorical, however, for the Christian the victim and the enemies of Psalms are historical.
Most of the authors prove that it is possible to write on the Psalms without the usual theological jargons. In a similar manner this collection proves that there are multiple perspectives possible on the Book of Psalms. And each perspective is informing and fresh. This is a very small sampling and one has to really go through this exceedingly enjoyable book to enjoy its freshness and vigour.

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